The board voted May 15 to propose a 9-cent levy increase for inclusion on the Aug. 8, 2017 ballot. Nothing is wrong, though. The measure is part of the district’s overall goals for long-term planning and continuing to improve service - avoiding financial crises and stabilizing the tax rate.

There’s no crisis, and that was kind of the point as the Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District Board of Directors approved a tax issue for the August election.

The board voted May 15 to propose a 9-cent levy increase for inclusion on the Aug. 8, 2017 ballot. Nothing is wrong, though. The measure is part of the district’s overall goals for long-term planning and continuing to improve service - avoiding financial crises and stabilizing the tax rate.

The proposed levy increase is intended to add two more firefighter positions and help the department plan for current and future equipment and maintenance needs, according to Sunrise Beach Fire Chief Dennis Reilly.

He also estimated the bump in the levy would allow the district to offer a stable tax rate for the next 10 to 15 years - as opposed to having to come to voters for general obligation bonds every time it needs to purchase apparatus and major equipment items.

The additional staffing funded by the increase would allow the department to keep its second manned station on Spruce Road open “24/7,” Reilly said.

“Staffing Fire Station 3 is a necessity for us to be able to put emergency responders on the scene in a time frame where they can actually make successful interventions,” said Reilly in a later press release. “With the current staffing, Fire Station 3 closes anytime one of the career firefighters is off.”

During the May 15 meeting, Reilly went over response time data with the board, pointing out upticks in the average response time for the Shawnee Bend area of the district when the station house has to close for a day.

The SBFPD announced historic staffing levels in November 2016 when it was able to place six full-time firefighters on duty at two fire houses. The district has 17 full-time firefighter positions in the operations division. Right now, the district has an unfilled position and when a firefighter takes a vacation or sick day, the department has to close Station 3.

Firefighters have to pass a rigorous recruit academy developed under Reilly before becoming an active-duty member of the department. Academies are held periodically throughout the year.

The operating levy change would bump the SBFPD up again after its last levy increase approved by voters in 2013. That issue allowed the district a seven-cent increase on top of capturing an outgoing debt levy to increase staffing and begin building up an equipment and apparatus replacement fund.

Since then, the district has seen an operational shift focused on staffing up with paid career firefighters as volunteer firefighter levels have declined along the lines of nationwide trends. Additional firefighter positions were added, allowing the department to begin manning a second station house - located in the Shawnee Bend area - part-time with career firefighters.

The district has also begun a savings program for equipment and apparatus replacement supplemented by the sale of certain apparatus and equipment that was found to be little used after analysis of resources. The district recently purchased replacement turnout gear as well as having its fire boat fixed.  

The cost

A 9-cent levy increase means an additional nine cents per $100 of assessed valuation of personal and real estate property would be collected by the district. The current levy stands at $0.6145. The increase would take the rate to approximately $0.7045.

What the levy increase means in terms of money for the department is approximately $298,000 per year, according to Chief Reilly.

For residential property owners, the cost would equal about $4.43 additionally per month on a $300,000 home, or $53.16 per year.

“For many of our citizens this initiative which will guarantee more on-duty firefighters, allow us to get to your emergencies quicker, eliminate the need for capital bonds, and will cost less per month than two slices of pizza,” Reilly commented.

Property taxes are figured using the market evaluation from the county assessor’s office. Once the market value (MV) is determined, residential properties are assessed at a rate of 19 percent. The assessment rate for commercial properties is 32 percent. Cars and boats are assessed at a rate of 33 1/3 percent. Agricultural property and equipment are assessed at 12 percent. Taxing entities then collect a percentage of that assessed value (AV), the levy for each entity being set by a vote of the people. The rate is expressed as cents or dollars (C) per $100.

The district will be scheduling several town hall meetings to review the details of this plan with its citizens and encourages anyone with questions to contact Chief Reilly at District Headquarters at 573-374-4411.